With outgoing president Hu Jintao kicking off the 18th Party Congress by addressing a number of the challenges facing China and the Communist Party, and with Xi Jinping preparing to take over as China’s top leader, The Associated Press reports that the debate over Hu’s legacy has already begun:
In media commentaries, think-tank position papers and the less censored blogosphere, Hu’s reign is being portrayed as a missed opportunity to tackle longstanding problems grown more deep-seated, from a yawning rich-poor gulf and worsening environmental degradation to stiffly authoritarian politics. One commentary has referred to the period as a “lost decade.”
“We didn’t realize Hu would turn out to be so conservative,” said Wu Jiaxiang, a former party researcher-turned-businessman and avid blogger, summing up the disappointment of many in China’s chattering classes. He dates his own disappointment with Hu to the closing of liberal-minded websites in 2005.
Some of the criticisms are designed to influence Xi Jinping, who will begin taking over from the technocratic, ultra-reserved 69-year-old Hu at a party congress that opens Thursday.
Mainstream state media, which answer to the party and dominate what most Chinese see, read and hear, have been praising the Hu era, calling it a “Glorious Decade.”
It’s clear that Hu will hand Xi the reins to a China very different from the one he inherited from Jiang Zemin in 2002. He spent the better part of his first two years tightening his grip on power and freeing himself from Jiang’s shadow, taking control of the military in early 2005 and steadily gaining influence via a balance of savvy maneuvering and compromise.
But while Jiang’s departure yielded fresh calls for political liberalization, Hu rejected such pursuits from an early stage. He insisted on tightening the government’s control over public opinion and ensuring discipline in the
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